Who is Your Star?
Every now and again, while watching a movie, I’m distracted a bit by a side character dancing over in the periphery of the story. For whatever reason, I find certain supporting roles more interesting and captivating. I think to myself, what if that person were the star. More often than not (but not always), they’re a plucky self-motivated gal-friend to the male lead - often used in the story to contrast the female lead who the male lead is no doubt in love with. Now, I don’t mean a Michelle Rodriguez
or a Mercedes McCambridge.
That’s a different sort of contrast.
(You understand - "Tough Cowboy lady" or "Michelle Rodriguez" is Hollywood code for lesbian.)
I also don’t mean the femme fatale or worldly temptress.
No, this is a character certain audience members are supposed to associate themselves with and empathize with.
They are the "regular gals." Most female audience members are far less Grace Kelly and far more Thelma Ritter.
Of course, there’s no shame in being a Thelma Ritter - in fact, that’s what this whole blog entry is about - that interesting side character who, for whatever reason, just interests me more than the lead characters do.
Tonight, for my Film History class, we watched the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo... (Starring Morrissey)
(I’m contractually obligated as a film student to always say “classic Hitchcock film” when referring to any of Hitch’s movies.
Anyway, Vertigo features Jimmy Stewart (long before he was peddling Home Cookin’ Soup...
...two points if you said that with his funny little Shirley Temple affectation). Stewart is inexplicably pretending to be a leading man even though he’s just an old man to me.
Paired with old ass Jimbo, there’s the beautiful and somewhat exotic Kim Novak.
This was my first encounter with Novak.
I found her to be striking, albeit a little hard-edged in comparison to Grace Kelly (from Hitchcock’s earlier film Rear Window).
While the mystery of the story is captivating and Novak’s beauty mesmerizing, I found myself far more alert and interested during the scenes with Barbara Bell Geddes.
Some may remember her as Ms. Ellie Ewing, the aged patriarch on the 80’s hit night-time soap opera, Dallas.
In this film, however, she is not aged at all. She’s a vibrant and beautiful young woman. Her character lives in a slightly bohemian studio apartment with a gorgeous and highly unlikely view of San Francisco.
She is old Jimbo’s confidant, and it would seem she is a bit lovelorn for him. I absolutely don’t understand why, but then again, I’ve fallen for some pretty square straight guys before too.
I think I’m to understand that he’s not in love with her because of her talent and intelligence. Men, according to this film, don’t want a fun and intelligent woman. They want the living and breathing equivalent of a china doll.
But enough about what stupid straight men want. Let’s talk about what I want. I want Barbara Bell Geddes (I think her character name was Midge) to be the star of the show. We are introduced to Midge as she sketches some lingerie - apparently, her day job has to do with drawing bras and panties and girdles. That’s fun as fuck. Strewn all over the room are various paintings and drawings she’s been working on - and they’re all quite good. She’s talented - and from her jabs at Jimbo about the fact that he’s currently wearing a girdle (medical, I’m supposed to assume), she seems to have a great sense of humor. As she laughs and tosses her head around, her perky blond hair jiggles around like a peroxided halo on springs. Over in her kitchenette, she pours a drink in some glasses with bamboo stripping around the middle, no doubt a subtle insinuation about her bohemian tendencies. She may look like a Gidget, but this is San Francisco, after all. Later in the film, she helps Jimbo with his mystery by introducing him to an eclectic book store owner. Everyone knows the tale-tell sign of someone with bohemian tendencies is their association with odd and eccentric characters who own book stores or play jazz or call people “Mary.” So from the get-go, I was all about Midge. In the end, when she didn’t end up with Jimbo, I was relieved. That meant there was hope for her own spin-off sequel, even if only in my mind.
Another side character that I found more entertaining than the lead was Thelma Ritter’s character in Rear Window.
I think her name was Stella (but not STELLA!!!!). Of course Grace Kelly was fun to watch, especially as she gets involved with the possible murder situation, but Stella is the only thing that kept the scenes without Grace Kelly interesting. Without her anecdotes about her husband or her wisecracking and cynicism, it was just OLD boring Jimmy Stewart and his old loose skin (go watch the movie - watch the scene where Stella rubs oil on his back - it’s like she’s prepping a chicken for the broiler).
Throughout the entire movie, when Stella would head to the door to leave, I just hoped the camera would follow her, leaving old Jimbo to his own devices. We could come back to him later, but please God, don’t leave me alone with him! More recently, we saw The Post at Cinema 21. It’s pointless to say that the movie is good - it’s Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks.
That’s literally what the posters say, because they know they don’t have to say anything else. The best people in the business came together to quickly whip up this fun dramatic gem of a film and they succeeded. It’s nearly perfect. It’s only flaw is that we spend way too much time NOT devoted to this one side character that interests the heck out of me. In the film, she seems to be the only female reporter at The Washington Post during that era (the mid 1970’s). She’s played by actress Carrie Coon.
You may also remember her as Ben Afleck’s sister in Gone Girl.
In The Post, she has a bitchin’ 1970’s conservative hairdo (aka a grandma hairdo - which is why everyone in your mom’s yearbook looks old even though they’re only like 15 years old), gets to wear A-frame dresses, desperately tries to be heard while the “boys” are yammering on about competition with the New York Times, but ultimately, gets a sweet-ass moment when she dictates to the newsroom verbatim what the Supreme Court Justices just said about the right to a free press.
It was a nice moment, but seemed to beg out to the powers that be that she needed more screen time in the film. While Barbara Bell Geddes and Thelma Ritter are no longer with us, Carrie Coon is most definitely still around - poised to be a big star - and now would be a great time to finally make one of my side character feature film fantasies come true!
Let’s say it’s 1979. There are some hostages in Iran. The Washington Post takes a risk and sends their one female reporter to find out what’s going on — and ACTION!!!